It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-August and I am missing you. To say ‘I miss you’ is like saying ‘I am alive’. I think of all the evenings and weekends I spent at work while you were home. At that time, I thought I had no choice but now I know I did. I thought wrong. I think of the time we were walking through an ‘Ideal Home Show’ and you wanted to buy a brown leather bean-bag for your room and I said no. I thought you should have more floor space. Again, I thought wrong. These thoughts are sets of darts that fly in uninvited at supersonic speed and leave parallel rows of bleeding abrasions behind.
This summer has been exceptionally glorious but Nature at large is annoyed with us I think. There have been flash-floods, droughts and heat-waves in most unlikely of places, forest-fires and famines, violent volcanoes and earth-quakes. I wonder what you would’ve made of the burning Middle-east, Mr Trump, Brexit and North Korea. If only Electric cars could solve all the problems of the world.
They say the longest journey is from the head to the heart. I made that journey in one second – the second I knew you were gone. You won’t believe how many real friends and real conversations I now enjoy. I also read a lot more. I wonder what you think of my new reading glasses – metallic purple frame. Yes. The time has come. After carrying them all over the world in a red polka-dotted Cath Kidson case for more than a year, I have finally started wearing them.
While clearing up a corner of the study I found a set of drum-sticks that belong to you. They looked well used. ‘REGAL TIP USA But Naked’. 🙂 I held them in my hands like you would’ve. You remember how we competed in the game of ‘chop sticks’? One shrimp, one string of spaghetti, one edamame bean, one grain of rice, half an edamame bean and so on… you won every time. You rascal!
Yesterday, the ‘Old people’s’ radio said that ‘Friends’ was the most streamed TV programme on-line. I remember how our opinions about Rachel clashed as though she was the most important person in our lives. FYI, I’ve still not changed my mind about her.
West Norwood High street has many more cafés now – Thai, French, Brazilian and Portuguese. I feel a stronger sense of community is developing here. The new improved South London Theatre is putting up some great shows and a new Cinema is being built where the Library used to be. The streets and cafés miss you too my darling.
I attach a picture of your beloved drum-sticks for you. I could write, not just a letter but a whole book for you but, another time. I hope wherever you are, you’re having fun.
To up and move the household every couple of years.
To tear away from the warmth of neighbours and friends.
To bleed quietly inside.
To have no say in matters within and without.
It was normal.
To have a new set of chairs, beds, books and windows.
To be the ‘new girl’ in the new uniform in the new school, again.
To prove oneself again.
To pick up ‘the way we do things here’ again.
To keep on keeping the balance despite shearing winds.
It was normal.
To make a home out of a house.
To know there was only that much money.
To have aromatic homemade meals and smart hand-stitched clothes.
To extract as much joy and laughter as life allowed.
To create some more out of nothing.
To sometimes see grown-ups stressed.
To find blame and shame scattered around like unclaimed marbles.
To be expected to shine at all times.
It was normal.
To not know names of feelings.
To muddle along with them.
Mostly hide them in cotton balls of confusion.
To have no voice except silence.
To shed tears in dark corners.
To feel like a lone tree in a desert.
It was normal.
A long time ago, on a Sunday morning at a village fete I saw a beautiful black-clay handmade earthenware pot. I wanted it. He said that we shouldn’t as it might break. We brought it home. A long time ago, it decorated our home for a long time.
He said if something is breakable, there is a real chance it will break, no matter how much we feel it ‘should’ not. Each time we looked at it our hearts warmed like the insides of fur mittens. He said nature had its own laws of demolition. That was a long time ago.
Another day, we brought another sweet fragile thing home. It was delicate as a little bird. It claimed all our love, our time and our sleep. It cooed and cackled and played silly games. It decorated our home for a long time. Each time we looked at it our eyes sparkled like north stars and our hearts overflowed like rivers breaking banks. He said the cement of our love would keep us all intact and together. Forever.
We forgot that this thing was breakable. And we were breakable too. He said even if we moved across continents and oceans everything would be alright. He said even if we had nothing we would be okay. He said nothing would break. That was a long time ago.
Now the black-clay handmade earthenware pot from a long time ago sits in the centre of our living room, on a glass top coffee table, looking pretty. It’s breakable.
84 life-size statues of men were seen standing at the edge of tall buildings in central London in late March representing the same number of men lost to suicide every week in the UK – a hard hitting visual project aiming to bring this tragic loss out into the open from behind closed doors.
Common threads emerged from articles published in April:
“Students more likely to kill themselves” in the Times: Researchers from a Hong Kong University analysed the ONS figures and found that the number of university students in Britain increased by 5 per cent between 2012 and 2016. The total number of suicides among students increased by 32 per cent, from 139 to 183 deaths. A think tank said that a law banning universities from contacting the friends and family of students who are struggling should be revisited.
The number of first year university students reporting mental health problems in UK Universities has risen five fold in 10 years. A combination of increasing awareness of mental health issues, a lowering of the taboo previously attached to mental health services, mounting debts, homesickness, loneliness and a greater sense of anxiety about the future may be some of the reasons for it. Some vice-chancellors still think that mental well being is not the business of universities and it’s just about developing the mind. But developing minds means nothing unless students settle down well in their new environment and be ready to learn.
According to recent ONS statistics on loneliness, people between 16-24 are at the epicentre of the loneliness epidemic in the UK. More so than the elderly. Women were found to be lonelier than men. Other variables were renting a home rather than owning one, being single or widowed, having poor health and feeling disconnected from the local community.
In an article entitled “Doctors knew my son was suicidal. I should have been told before he died” in the Guardian, I raise this question yet again: Is confidentiality more important than helping someone at risk to stay alive? Is it correct for a father to be informed by doctors after the death of his son,”Now that he is dead I can tell you that this was not his first attempt”?
“…the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.” – By Olivia Laing, The Lonely City.
In the summer of 1999 I moved from New Delhi to a little place called Antrim in Northern Ireland. I lived in a tiny room in the accommodation for junior doctors on hospital grounds. I didn’t know a soul there. Slowly I made a few friends at work. Unlike now, there were no mobile phones, whatsapp, skype, facetime or facebook then. Telephone calls costed a bomb. People were friendly but everyone was a stranger. Initially I didn’t get their sense of humour at all. I felt foolish. I longed to speak my own language with someone. Anyone. But there was no one who would understand.
One evening I went to buy some chocolates to a nearby petrol station. There were 2 cashiers but only one of them had a long queue of people waiting their turn. I didn’t understand why. I went up to the cashier without a queue and made my payment. I didn’t get the meaning of the looks on people’s faces. It didn’t help that I was the only coloured person for miles. From some face expressions it was obvious that they had never ever seen a coloured person outside of the television. I felt alone. Very alone.
Urban loneliness is a common phenomenon. Isolation causes inflammation. Inflammation can cause further isolation and depression. The cytokines released as a result suppress the immune system giving rise to more illness.
Frome is a historical town in Somerset. It is known as one of the best places to live in the UK. Dr Helen Kingston, a GP, kept encountering patients who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives. They were treated like a cluster of symptoms rather than a human being with health problems. Staff at her practice were stressed and dejected by what she calls “silo working”.
With the help of the local council and Health connections Mendip, she launched a community initiative in 2013. It main intervention was to create a stronger community. They identified and filled gaps in communications and support in the community. They employed ‘health connectors’ and trained up volunteers to be ‘community connectors’. They helped people with handling debt or housing problems, sometimes joining choirs or lunch clubs or exercise groups or writing workshops or men’s sheds (where men make and mend things together). The aim was to break a familiar cycle of misery.
In the three years that followed, emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% across the whole of Somerset. In Frome they fell by 17%.
No other intervention, drug or procedure on record has reduced emergency admissions across a population.
We know we are in Holland when the study table in our hotel room has a puncture repair kit in the drawer. Looking out of the window I see people riding their bikes with great abandon – simultaneously texting, chomping at an ice-cream, carrying a big bunch of flowers and chatting with a friend riding a bike in parallel. Pedestrians and automobiles are invisible to them. Bi-cycles go where they like, when they like. Anytime of day or night they shoot out of blind corners and come barging at us from all sides. Walking the cobbled streets as unsure visitor, we feel like an inconvenience to these bikers. I seriously envy them their security, their space and their freedom!
A white van drives past us with ‘Authentic smaak’ emblazoned across the side in dark green. It brings amusement to our faces. Does this mean what we think it does? We guess it refers to one of the substances that Amsterdam is well known for. We later discover the innocent local meaning of ‘smaak’ is ‘taste’.
‘Dutch masters at the Hermitage‘ is an enlightening exhibition. We got up-close to some of Rembrandt’s great works. The portrait of an old jew from 1654 came out a clear winner in my eyes. The light on his hands and face, the fineness of the wrinkles, the stories hidden in them, the detail on the hands, the use of space, the aura of wisdom …
Our hotel lobby was dominated by a large portrait of a mother and child. Painter unknown. Dates unknown.
It softened my heart. It spoke to me. It took me right back into the past. It made me sad in the most delightful way. It brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my lips. I didn’t need reminding that my very last holiday with Saagar, in April 2014 was to this very town, Amsterdam. He is with me, wherever I go. Our children never go too far away. They are in our DNA as much as we are in their’s.
A mother of a teenager in Molenbeek, a suburb of Brussels got this text message, “Congratulations,” it read. “Be proud of him. He is now a martyr. Be happy he died fighting the unbelievers.” Molenbeek is said to be the jihadist capital of Europe and has lost many of its young to radicalisation.
NATO bombs have been falling on migrant boats, night markets, residential buildings, motels, random vehicles, hospitals, wedding parties filled with innocent people like you and me, in the name of liberty and democracy, killing sons and daughters of many mothers.
Continuous shellings, massacres, occupations and sieges in places like Mosel, Raqqua, Aleppo, Ghouta and Gaza carry on for weeks, months, years and decades, claiming innumerable lives of children of mothers who mourn for the rest of their lives.
Some mothers have everything taken from them. They are unable to provide for the most basic needs of their children due to various reasons, one of them being the blockade to aid, such as the one in Yemen. Some have to exchange sexual favours for minimal aid. Some are forced to watch their kids starve. Some of the realities are unimaginable.
We all are on the same grid of heart-breaking, unconditional love. Today, on Mother’s day, I send my love to mothers all over the world. I salute their tenacity and commitment. I admire their strength. I hope for peace and wisdom for all. I honour their grace and grief. I pray for their healing. I stand with them, their pain and helplessness, their love and longing. Our empathy envelops this burning globe like a silk scarf.